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Which Gold is Most Ethical?


Most of the clients we speak with have some level of awareness that there are complicated, and often problematic, issues related to sourcing gold.


As a responsible consumer you want to make the “correct” choice - especially about a significant purchase such as fine jewelry. So what’s the right thing to do?


Like so many issues in the jewelry industry (and life) there is no perfect answer.

We created this quick overview to help you make a more educated decision about your next gold purchase


Is a “recycled gold” label good enough?

If a company claims products are made from recycled gold, but they do not explicitly state that their recycled gold comes from post-consumer sources this leaves the door open to a wide range of problematic issues.


Surprisingly, the definition of recycled allows for inclusion of gold that may have come almost directly from a large-scale mining operation without ever entering the market. Without careful tracking, illicit or illegally mined gold can easily enter the “recycled” stream during the refining process (gold has a long history of being used in money laundering).


When you do want to use post-consumer recycled gold it is important to look for a third-party verification which certifies that the source is as claimed. The certification we generally look for is from SCS Global.


Does using “recycled gold” cut down on mining?

When the term “recycled” is used there is an implication that this diverts waste and also lessens demand for “new” material. Unfortunately, neither of these is true when it comes to gold. Gold never enters the waste stream. Due to its value, and near infinite reusability, gold is never thrown away.


In fact, there is a movement to call this gold “reclaimed” to differentiate from the commonly used term recycling as it applies to other materials.


In terms of diminishing demand for newly mined material, consider the fact that the demand for gold in both the financial and technology markets means that choosing recycled (or reclaimed) gold in jewelry has no impact on the mining industry.


How can conscientious consumers make an impact on mining?

If you want to have an impact on mining, one of the best options is to support Artisanal Small-Scale Mining (ASM). The World Bank estimates that globally there are 40 million people, particularly in developing countries, whose livelihoods depend on ASM.


If you’ve looked into resource mining even a little bit you’ve probably seen terrible and terrifying images of large-scale mining. ASM is typically a different picture. I don’t want to make a misleading statement that there is no environmental damage caused at this smaller scale, but it is often a “lighter footprint” activity.


Most importantly, more of the wealth generated by resource extraction is kept in the source communities. Unlike large scale mining (LSM) scenarios, where most of the resource generated wealth is taken out of source communities by large corporations or wealthier nations.


But what about pollution caused by ASM gold mining?

One of the biggest areas of concern in ASM is pollution due to mercury use in the process of gold extraction. Mercury use is widespread and this harmful toxin is frequently contained improperly.


The reason miners use mercury is because it is the most affordable way to maximize the yield from their work. There are currently grassroots efforts underway to establish viable alternatives that allow miners to transition away from mercury use without compromising their livelihoods. There are also programs that incentivize land remediation and cleanup from past mercury use. The best way to support the growth of these programs is to create demand for ASM gold mined without mercury.


How do I know if jewelry is made from ASM gold?

Ask your jeweler! Most likely, if a jewelry brand is using traceable gold they will loudly and proudly share this information with you. They may purchase gold through a certification program like Fairmined or Fair Trade, in which case you can look for those labels on their website - or go to the website of the certification program to search for licensed brands.


There are also brands that support grassroots initiatives and work directly with mining communities who are not part of a certification program. Again, these brands will usually share this information with consumers on their About page, in an Impact Report, or in their Ethical Statement.


What if the jewelry brand I’m looking at doesn’t share any information about their gold sourcing?

This probably means they don’t know, or that the impact they make with their sourcing is not important to them. If it’s a brand that you want to shop with, ask them if they have information, and let them know that it matters to you. Otherwise, look elsewhere. There’s plenty of incredible jewelry available made with responsibly sourced materials.


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